4 Gifts for Someone with PTSD
According to recent estimates by veteran organizations, more than 540,000 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Additionally, the Department of Defense states that more than 361,000 service members have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) since the year 2000. With these staggering numbers, the odds of you knowing a veteran struggling with these often-invisible injuries from war are high. So how can you show your support for them, or mark a special occasion, with a gift they will really appreciate or enjoy?
While many PTSD-sufferers will tell you that simple actions and attitudes – like being understanding, allowing them to discuss (or NOT discuss) their memories, or giving them space when they need it – can mean so much, there are some gift ideas that might benefit a friend or loved one suffering from PTSD or TBI. Here are four practical ideas.
A New, Active Outdoor Hobby
Sometimes the daily routine and the stresses of civilian life can push a veteran suffering with PTSD into seclusion or detachment. You can help by giving them a new experience to break the monotony and stress patterns, and introduce a new skill to focus on improving and perfecting. Many veterans are experiencing a reduction in PTSD symptoms but immersing themselves in peaceful, outdoor settings, while learning new sports like fly fishing and horseback riding. These outdoor activities engage the body and the mind – helping push out the repetitive thoughts and nagging worries – at least for a time. Additionally, the quiet, scenic setting removes the veteran from the noise and rush of everyday life, providing a calming, much needed respite.
Numerous veteran organizations – like Healing Waters or a variety of equine therapy organizations – exist today to provide these opportunities to veterans, often at no cost. As an added benefit, these organizations are typically staffed by experts and volunteers who themselves are veterans, providing a new community and peer group that understands what the veteran has experienced, and what they face in their day-to-day struggles. Healing Water trainers even come regularly to VA hospitals to help veterans recovering or in therapy work on their casting skills in the hospital courtyard.
You can help your veteran connect to your local organizations by doing the legwork ahead of time. Contact the group and find out eligibility requirements, costs, timelines, and even pre-register your veteran to save them time and headaches. It’s important, of course, to remain sensitive to the desires of the veteran and not push the issue if he or she is not ready. But having the whole experience set up and ready to go might increase the likelihood that they will take the opportunity and run with it.
An Assistance Animal
Many of us have heard that service animals can help veterans suffering from PTSD, and may have even seen these animals – typically dogs – out in the public setting. Your veteran may not realize that he or she could qualify for a canine companion, potentially for free, or may not know how to go about acquiring a specially trained PTSD service dog.
The benefits of service animals are long and varied. Having a companion in your home, especially at night, can help veterans who struggle with sleep and hypervigilance, knowing that their dog will hear an intruder or noise and will effectively help “keep watch” so he or she can rest. Having another living creature dependent on you for their survival can be just enough motivation to hang on through the hardest times to see another day. And, of course, having another creature to “hang out with” during down times can help battle loneliness and a feeling or separation or disconnectedness.
The good news is that there are several organizations established with the sole purpose of connecting veterans to service animals. If you are looking for a service dog, organizations like K9s for Warriors providers rigorously trained dogs that have been taught skills like creating distance between a veteran and an unwanted person, trudging ahead around corners and unknown territory, waking a veteran from a nightmare, and even sitting in a position to “watch the veteran’s back.”
Again, you will want to be sure that your veteran is open and interested in the idea of receiving and caring for a service dog, and keep in mind that he or she will need to be involved in the selection process. Some organizations offer free training classes to new service dog owners to ensure they know the commands and habits of their new companion. By researching the organizations in your area, along with eligibility and requirements, you can help make the possibility of a helpful pet companion a reality for someone suffering with PTSD.
Playlist of their Happiest Musical Memories
Studies are emerging on the value of music in restoring memories for the aging, and new research suggests that the same is also true for people suffering from PTSD or TBI. An easy and fun gift for a veteran struggling to battle negative memories and flashbacks is to use music from specific years to help them recall simpler and happier times from before their trauma. This can be a particularly enjoyable activity if you’ve known the veteran for a very long time, and have your own happy shared memories of the past. You can consider preloading an mp3 player with several playlists of the top songs from their high school years, college days, or memorable trips and experiences.
Keep in mind recent studies show that the tone of the music – or cues in the songs that could be categorized as “happy” as opposed to “negative” or “scary” – is important. These triggers help bring certain memories and emotions to mind, so keep it light and upbeat, leaving the darker songs (even ones they once loved) off the list.
At-Home Art Therapy
Repetitive thought and memory triggers can sneak up on a PTSD sufferer at any moment, and directly impact their life, emotions, and social interactions. Some forms of therapy teach veterans exercises – both mental and physical – to calm them during these moments, help them hold on until the surge in emotion passes, and reconnect them to the real, present world.
While “meditation” as a concept may be a little daunting for some veterans, recent studies are suggesting that coloring abstract images like mandalas may actually offer similar benefits as meditation. While coloring and art have been used for centuries as relaxation and self expression, it now appears to also help battle stress. Psychologists explain that when coloring, you are engaging numerous parts of your brain – including the area that controls your fine motor skills – that help you focus on the task at hand rather than worries or anxieties. It also triggers your creativity and imagination, and brings up memories of childhood, where you most likely were experiencing less stress.
A gift of a nice set of pencils or markers and an so-called “adult coloring book” (very popular at craft stores across the nation, online, or even for free downloads) can be a thoughtful gift a veteran can use in the privacy of his or her own home to connect to calmer emotions and feel more centered.
However you choose to show your care and affection to a veteran, know that the effort of showing you care and are sensitive to their ongoing battle, speaks volumes and is a precious gift in itself.